Talking with God
... in Person
If we begin to grasp
this simplest concept, — that God is a Person
— much of what we think, say, and do will very likely
change, and even more likely, it will change for
the better. We will begin to lose our fear not simply
of what to say to Him, and how,
but we will begin to open ourselves to genuine intimacy
with God. We will come to see God as a Person.
In many ways, God is very simple. Even in the way of the most
abstruse theological speculation, God, in the end,
is utter simplicity.1 We nevertheless
tend to make a tremendous complexity of God. We
do not do this intentionally, of course, but it
is rather a very human reflex before our perception
of God as utterly transcendent, as Other,
— even while we acknowledge His immanence in
the most ordinary things that surround us, and to
some degree define our being, things that are part
and parcel of our existence as “mere mortals.”
God, as we have said, is a Person. But God is also a particular
kind of Person, eminently possessed of
an attribute that we can (at least some
of us) understand very clearly.
He is a Father. Because there are so many miserable failures
in human fatherhood, even an astonishing lack of
what should most clearly articulate our understanding
of fatherhood — love — we have put God
rather at a disadvantage. Understanding Him as “Father”
means, to many of us, perfunctory role playing,
indifference, aloofness, even disregard or what
is worse, abandonment. This is the reality of fatherhood
in modern life, the reality in which father is sundered
from child, rather than bound indefeasibly to the
child. In a word, fatherhood as absentee,
if not in fact, then in disposition.
Our fathers are a rather sad lot, in many ways emasculated of
their fatherhood by an inordinate deference to
feminism to which many men readily submit
because it is easier to be irresponsible than responsible.
When the promotion of one gender through the social
dissolution of the other has become a matter of
policy and politic, we are left with a caricature
of fatherhood, a nominal token of a reality collapsing
under the weight of the fiction of its own superfluity.
On the other hand, it is equally the case that feminism is in
many ways an opportunistic response to men defaulting
on their fatherhood. In how many, many families
the woman is the one who remains with the children
when the father leaves in pursuit, most often, of
his own selfish interests.
We must be forthright and acknowledge that through the neglect
of men, and the doctrinaire exploitation of
militant feminists, we have been implicitly
deprived of God Himself, of understanding the love
of God as Father. So deep is this wound
caused by men through their failures as fathers,
that God Himself has come to acquire the odor of
complicity, and we end up with such superficial
nonsense as “God the Mother” — as though the mere
nominal exchange of parental beneficence and liability
will eradicate the breach. In the end, such exchanges
are embarrassingly trivial and only testify to the
fact that our understanding not only of God, but
notion of father and mother has
become acutely superficial.
While this plays a significant role in our inability
to relate to God, it is, at least fundamentally,
an aside to the far deeper issue of our inability
to apprehend God as a Person, and until we grasp
God as a Person, He will forever appear distant,
remote, inexorably transcendent to us.
Unable to relate to God as a Person, we approach
Him not as child to parent, but as practitioners
through ritual. As totally “Other” (and
with few reliable exemplars in our lives) we fall
back on atavistic tendencies that preceded the revelation
of the True God, Who revealed the Father, in the
In this sense, we are no different from the Philistines or Canaanites
who attempted to placate a largely irascible god
basically inimical to men, or at the very least
poorly disposed toward them. In our own way, we
offer up meaningless and repetitive gestures, as
so many obsessive-compulsives, in an effort not
so much to relate to, as to appease this distant
god bent on either toying with us or destroying
us. We build, as it were, our own fires and heap
the calves of our vicarious sacrifices upon them,
splash blood upon hot stones, divide animal entrails,
utter endlessly repetitive prayers, and do things
that would be stultifying to mere mortals, but which
we oddly deem to be palatable and pleasing to God
... at least a god who is not a person.
If we were God ... and
we are not!
Suppose, for a moment, that someone prevailed
upon you – a person – for a certain favor. Let us
further suppose that you were favorably disposed
toward this person; in fact, that you loved her
and cared deeply about her well-being. In your wisdom,
and were it in your power, you would not simply
“relent” and accede to her request; you would immediately
and gladly grant it.
Bis dat, cito dat.
He gives twice who gives quickly. While the mechanism
involved in bringing this about may of necessity
preclude its being enacted instantly, it nevertheless
remains that the petitioner is satisfied that the
request was well received and even in the asking
was in the act of being granted. After all, the
“person" upon whom she prevailed, loved her, and
she knew it.
Depending on the nature and the urgency of
the request, she may grow impatient, and even be
moved to ask again — to remind you, as
it were, of its exigency, although all the while
you had never lost sight of it. You understand this,
and assure her that you have not forgotten, and
that, in fact, things were well underway to satisfy
her request. It is, in effect, a reciprocal act
of trust. She trusts that you will help, and you
trust that she acknowledges this; that is to say,
that she acknowledges, recognizes, your goodness,
your love, your willingness, and your ability to
help her and your faithfulness to your word. She
walks away, grateful, and you are happily about
bringing her affairs to a satisfactory conclusion.
Love does that. It is deeply radicated in trust. There is
nothing of force, constraint, reluctance, no
quid pro quo, bargaining, or balancing scales.
In a word, love is autonomous. Acting ex meru
motu, love is, of its own free will, inherently
responsive. It need not be induced, propositioned
“My ways are not your ways” God tells us, so I do not know if God gets bored. Being just
men we would likely be bored to tears, and
perhaps even moved to annoyance, were we ourselves
subjected to an endless repetition of words uttered
by rote, largely empty of meaning and keenly focused
on number – the magical number that will tip the
scales in favor of the petitioner, despite the possibility
of any disinclination on our part. They did the
numbers, now we must do the deed.
This is God as a
Wall Street Trader, as a computer model, not
as a Person.
Jesus admonishes us against this:
“And when you are praying,
speak not much, as the heathens.
For they think that in their
much speaking they may be
Be not you therefore like
to them, for your Father
is needful for you, before
you ask him.” (St.
This is not to disdain repetitive prayer,
as some falsely claim; it is an admonishment
against meaningless prayer uttered in the way of
superstition, believing that the number prayed
is somehow “magical” in obtaining what one
is praying for. Repetitive prayer is often helpful
in bring one’s attention back from wandering in
prayer. The Holy Rosary is an eminent example.
As mechanical prayer it is meaningless, however
many decades uttered, no matter how pious the deportment,
no matter how deep the conviction that sheer numbers
culminate in anything more than a cipher.
Prayed from the heart, a single decade is a treasure trove of
When we talk to God, we deprive Him of Personality when
we speak with Him in a way other than we would speak
to one whom we love dearly and who loves us dearly
in turn. Think about it. We say Grace before our
meals with a perfunctory Sign of the Cross and a
petition mumbled in greater haste than we would
ever speak to the person seated next to us. In fact,
were we to talk to other persons, as we
often talk to the Person, God, we would be summarily
dismissed as rude and scolded for speaking meaninglessly.
Were we then to utter the same thing again and again
and in a ritualistic monotone, attentive to all
else but our words, our host would surely leave
in a haste only exceeded by our words. Were we to
thank our hosts for the meal in the way we thank
God for it, it is unlikely that we would be invited
The Pharisees lost the Person of God in the rigor of the
Law ... until the Law superseded God, and then crucified
As a result of our inability to apprehend God as a Person,
a real Person, we have come to approach Him
not as persons ourselves through love, but as mere
practitioners through empty ritual. There is nothing
wrong with ritual per se; it is, it ought
to be, the outward vestibule of inward realities
— it can be, and should be, holy, and it is holy
when the gestures of the outward rite accord with
an inner and deeper reality of which they are genuine,
and spontaneous signs. There is consonance between
appearances and realities. Nothing is superfluous,
nothing extraneous. And this can only be attained
through a deep perception of the presence of a Person
before Whom one stands, Who is the Reality
concealed behind the appearance.
Once you recognize the Personality of God —
God as a Person — your prayers will
cease being soliloquies, meaningless mantras. Not
only will you pray to God; you will speak with Him!
You will also come to understand the difference between the all
in little and the nothing in much.
bonitatis invenitur in uno simplici” — the
perfection of divine goodness is found in one simple
thing – Summa Theologiae, Part I, Q.3 art.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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